Appeared in the February 2019 issue of Sea Magazine
A storied past combined with modern technology creates a versatile sportfisher worthy of the name Bertram.
When Bertram ceased production in 2012, many boaters feared the iconic American brand was gone for good, but new ownership in 2015 brought strong financial backing and a refined focus on what makes Bertram special. Appropriately, I caught up with the new Bertram 61 in Newport, R.I., where it all started.
On a lumpy day in 1958, a young Richard Bertram, intrigued by the rough-weather performance of Ray Hunt’s new deep-V hull prototype, commissioned Hunt to design a 31-footer that became the legendary Moppie. That boat changed powerboat design forever and defined the Bertram brand. It was so influential that the first boat produced under the new leadership, the Bertram 35 (featured in Sea’s January 2018 issue), was a retro tribute that combined original design elements with modern materials. The Bertram 61 takes this philosophy a step further by providing owners with the quality Bertram is known for in a platform that can better showcase modern design, construction and amenities.
Sporting a pale blue hull, a contrasting dark cabin stripe and a step-down sheer line with an angular drop at the cockpit, the Bertram 61 combines classic elements with a clean, modern feel. Designed to fish, the 61’s teak-clad self-draining cockpit is larger than others in this class at 188 square feet. A varnished wood and ultraleather fighting chair with a footrest and a rocket launcher matches the mezzanine seating two steps up and the twin helm seats at the back of the flybridge above.
Other fishing amenities include gunwale storage on both sides, an aquarium-style livewell in the transom, removable macerator-equipped fishboxes below and plenty of rod holders. Without a swim platform, the transom door can be easily kicked and has a separate top gate. Mezzanine steps house refrigerated compartments with lift-up lids, a hatch provides engine room access and a cabinet beneath the aluminum flybridge ladder includes convenient tackle storage.
Up the ladder, the helm is fully aft. A high-gloss varnished helm pod contains a centerline stainless Ongaro steering wheel, single-lever Palm Beach controls (see Standard of Control sidebar for an explanation of the origins of the Palm Beach controls) and the integrated hydraulic bow thruster control. Above the helm is a recess for overhead electronics and a pocket that contains twin electric Maya Epoch US 9 teaser reels. Ahead of the helm are the Caterpillar engine and Octoplex electrical systems displays and twin Garmin MFDs. Hatches on both sides of the helm provide further access to controls and a place to charge and hold phones, tablets, binoculars and other loose items.
Visibility is good all around, though at almost 6 feet tall I couldn’t quite see the bow. Aft visibility is excellent, perfect for working the fishing action or backing up to a dock. Ahead of the helm is seating all around — backrests are conveniently removable — and a large centerline lounge pad with drink holders, all within earshot of the helmsman. Triple spreader outriggers flank a custom PipeWelders hardtop.
By the Numbers
The CAT 32 ACERT diesels rumbled gently as we ran out the harbor entrance into more open water. With only a light chop coming at us, we had no need for the standard Seakeeper 16 gyro stabilizer. The Bertram 61 cruised effortlessly at 1925 rpm, where it was running at 35 knots and the CATs were burning 159 gph. At 80 percent load, this is a nice cruising speed for running out for a day of fishing or heading down the coast. Backing off to 25 knots lowered the fuel burn to 93 gph and increased range to 417 miles, though I preferred running the boat faster, as I suspect most owners will. For a moderate cruise, 1650 rpm yielded 28.5 knots, a 114 gph fuel burn and a 387-mile range. Our peak speed was 42.7 knots, and it was difficult to tell we were going that fast.
Even at speed the 61 felt solid and maneuvered admirably; tight turns presented no issue for the vessel. Stopping and backing down, the boat was nimble in reverse, and large cockpit drains are designed for the type of action needed to land or tag big fish.
The sound level reached 90 decibels at the helm, a reasonable level on an open flybridge with an isinglass enclosure. Most of the noise came from water and wind, as the decibel meter read 78 in the salon.
Performance, strength and fishability are important, and the new Bertram 61 delivers, but it also has the accommodations and refinement that add versatility. Inside, the main salon is bright and airy. Its large wraparound window is segmented by six mullions, and the glass, like the rest of the boat, is designed to handle tough conditions. Die-hard canyon runners can, however, eschew the forward glass and opt for fiberglass.
The finish on this boat is top quality, with matte-varnished teak cabinetry throughout. The salon has a fore and aft seating area, and the convenient and fully equipped center galley includes twin sculpted glossy teak-and-stainless barstools. Belowdecks are three cabins and three full heads all with a separate shower. The forward cabin can be configured with either a queen island or split beds. The full-beam master cabin has an athwartships bed and an en suite head. I estimate headroom to be 6 feet, 3 inches in the master, though steps along the hull sides lower it.
Past & Future
Bertram seems to have found the right balance between its historical roots and modern amenities and construction techniques. Known for building tough boats, Bertram folks still do, at the company’s 120,000-square-foot waterfront shipyard and marine service facility on Tampa Bay. Vacuum-infused vinylester resin, a cored deck and hull that includes Kevlar reinforcement on the keel, strakes and spray rails make for a strong boat. The Michael Peters design includes an 18-degree deadrise and is true to Bertram’s roots, and it is combined with weight-saving contemporary construction techniques to enhance performance.
The Bertram 61 combines the best of the past with the technology of the future and delivers a boat that is not only a fishing machine but a comfortable cruiser that the whole family will enjoy. Judging by the team it has put together and the success of the new 61 — as of press time five have been sold — Bertram is back and, I suspect, here to stay.
Standard of Control
Palm Beach controls are a hallmark of modern battlewagons. Not only do they look good — a center pod of highly varnished teak contrasts with a polished stainless wheel and controls on each side — but they make it far easier to handle the boat, especially when backing down.
Who designed this setup and why is it called Palm Beach controls? The name, like many aspects of modern sportfishing, points to the Rybovich yard in Palm Beach. I surveyed some knowledgeable sportfishing professionals who agreed that the origin of such controls was likely the Rybovich brothers. Seeking further verification, I spoke to Bill Knowles, an 83-year-old boat captain with close ties to Rybovich. Knowles was friends with both Johnny and Tommy Rybovich and confirmed that Palm Beach controls were invented at the Rybovich yard in the late 1940s or early ’50s.
Tommy’s experience with aircraft in World War II gave him the idea. When he returned to the family yard, he and Johnny configured the center pod, a smaller wheel sans spokes and single levers into what is now known as Palm Beach controls. Originally, the controls were connected to cables in sheathes with the shifters and throttles attached at different points along the fulcrum of the lever arms. Modern hydraulics and electronics are now interfaced to Palm Beach controls in lieu of cables, but they perform the same way.
Other notable features the Rybovich brothers popularized or invented were smaller automotive style wheels — previously wheels were larger and had spokes like on sailing vessels — aluminum outriggers instead of bamboo, the fighting chair, transom doors (tricky on wooden boats) and the trolling valve.